Welcome Home… to the Kerrville Folk Festival
A quirky community of music lovers throws a bash in the Texas Hill Country
By Mike McHugh
Pull into the Quiet Valley Ranch, home of the Kerrville Folk Festival, and you’re greeted by a large sign that reads, “Welcome Home.” And home it is for several thousand “Kerr-verts” who faithfully camp in the heat of Texas Hill Country for eighteen days every May and June. They come to see big acts on the Main Stage and play their own home-spun tunes in the campgrounds. And to scarf down some corn dogs.
My Kerr-version occurred several years ago — all because of a Grateful Dead tee shirt. One night, at a club in Houston, my shirt attracted the eye of another patron. It led to a conversation about music. He happened to be a Kerrvert himself, and the rest was history. I shudder to think how it would have played out if I had instead been wearing a Poison tee-shirt. I might very well be at Deathfest Ten, slam dancing with some gang-tattooed freak with a spiked hairdo, looking like a graffiti-marred Statue of Liberty, instead of lying peacefully in the grass listening to Peter Yarrow sing “Puff The Magic Dragon.”
The folk festival’s Main Stage offers five different acts each weekend night. Some of the names are familiar; many are not, except to the most ardent folk music die-hards. All put on a great show. None of them smash their guitars.
But for me, the best times happen in the campgrounds. Dozens of camps dot the fifty-acre hillside. The camps go by quizzical names like “Duct Tape” and “Stupid” and “Tequila Mockingbird.” In them, you can find some amazingly talented musicians sitting in circles, sharing songs and drinks and lies, into, and often beyond, the wee hours. There’s magic in these song circles, a magic that even a few rhythm-less drunks with tambourines cannot dispel.
I park my ice chest at a camp called “Mix’d Nuts.” It’s run by my good friend, Papa Nut. Anyone who has his own camp is bestowed with the title of “Papa.” I don’t know why they use that term, but it fits the mood better than “Generalissimo.”
Mix’d Nuts is true to its name. There’s always a large container of them sitting somewhere around the circle. Donations are accepted, as long as they don’t include M & M’s. (Experience has shown these do not mix well with finger-picking in the Texas heat. )
You’ll also find some great eats to go with the music. This is Texas, after all. Which brings us back to the corn dogs. Every year, on the last Friday of the festival, King Corn Dog fries up enough of the delicacy to feed the entire ranch. And there’s ice cream to boot, which he serves while you’re waiting in line for the main course. Someone in line remarked to me it’s actually healthier to eat dessert at the start of the meal. Imagine that; a person waiting in line for corn dogs and French fries offering nutritional advice.
Such are the ways of the Kerrverts.
Mike McHugh is author of “The Dang Yankee,” a humorous column about a life in Louisiana and the world at large, from the perspective of a slowly graying northerner. Started in 2009, it’s a popular feature in The Jambalaya News, a publication covering Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas.